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How Jonathan Majors Found Out About The Ace Pilot He Plays In Devotion - Exclusive

Everyone knows who Martin Luther King Jr. was, or that Jackie Robinson was the first Black baseball player to make it into the modern major leagues, or that Barack Obama was the first Black president in U.S. history. We study Rosa Parks — who defied an Alabama segregation law by sitting in the "white section" of a bus — in school, and we applaud the life and work of actor and activist Sidney Poitier.

But there are countless other Black figures in history (via CNN) whose names are not as familiar in modern culture or whose achievements have been forgotten or obscured in the ongoing march of time. One of those figures was arguably Jesse LeRoy Brown, who was the first Black man to finish Naval Aviation School and become a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy — all despite being told every step of the way that he had no shot at making it (via Naval History and Heritage).

Nevertheless, Brown got his commission as an ensign in 1948, was assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 aboard the USS Leyte, was promoted to section leader, and flew many missions during the Korean War in support of U.S. and United Nations troops. Yet his story may not have been widely known — until now, with the arrival of the movie "Devotion."

"Devotion" stars Jonathan Majors as Brown, and Glen Powell (Hangman from "Top Gun: Maverick") as his wingman and best friend, Tom Hudner. Yet even Majors — who will also be seen next year as Kang the Conqueror in "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" — admitted in Looper's exclusive interview that he wasn't familiar with Brown's story at first. But that all changed quickly as he settled into the project.

Learning about Jesse Brown was an eye-opener for Majors

While Jesse Brown was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal for his performance during the Korean War, inspired many other Black men to become pilots, and even had a Navy frigate named after him, Jonathan Majors admitted that even with a personal connection to the Korean War, he did not really know who Brown was.

"It was a bit of a surprise as I could pride myself on knowing a bit about the Korean War," Majors told Looper. "My grandfather was in the Korean War, [and] I was in a TV series ['Lovecraft Country'] in which I played a Korean War veteran, and yet when I got this script for Jesse Brown and his story, I hadn't heard of it. 'Devotion' — the story, the film, the book — was my first acquaintance with the legend that is Jesse LeRoy Brown."

Once he understood who Brown was and what the project was about, Majors realized that the life and experiences of the groundbreaking pilot resonated with him in a deeply personal way. "As I read and heard about the story of him coming from Mississippi and essentially making his way into the sky against so many odds, it became clear that this man is not just a legend, but potentially my hero," said the acclaimed actor.

Majors added that Brown's life story remains relevant now, more than 70 years after the events of "Devotion" took place. "What do heroes do?" he mused. "They give us a light at the end of the tunnel. They give us hope."

"Devotion" is out in theaters on Wednesday, November 23.